LIVE REVIEW: Johnny Marr, O2 Academy, Newcastle

I PROBABLY wasn’t the best person to send to this gig: when I first clocked Morrissey swirling his bunch of plants around on Top Of The Pops, I just thought ‘what a load of contrived art school nonsense’ - or words to that effect.

But then I realised that in Johnny Marr, I was listening to a guitarist who could craft a beautifully sweet jingly-jangly riff, fit for any pop chart – a guy literally writing a whole new verse for English music.

JOHNNY MARR ... on stage at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Paul Taylor.

JOHNNY MARR ... on stage at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Pic: Paul Taylor.

A consummate ‘stringmeister’ who could produce on a guitar true technical and musical superlatives of melody and fresh approach.

He remains a guitar zen master, of that there is no doubt.

However, Morrissey’s meandering vocal and memorably camp lyrics somehow ‘completed’ those riffs and made them into the chapter of music history which those of us over a certain age remember with a certain fondness, Smiths fans or not.

But Morrissey’s no longer there to complete Johnny Marr’s writing – and, live at least, Marr on his own isn’t really enough.

Oh sure, there’s still the lush, jangly, multi-textured guitar sound and the wit of a charmingly sardonic man to go with it, but somehow Johnny Marr’s ‘rock royalty’ status isn’t enough to make up for a lack of solo writing power.

This gig all started promisingly enough, with Playland, the eponymous track of tour and album, delivering loads of energy and sweet arpeggiated riffing.

But as his set progressed, once the initial burst of guitar-driven euphoria was past, Marr’s songs developed a habit of getting stuck in a kind of rut – meandering along in a haze of Mancunian mood music (in my humble opinion, your majesty).

There was lots from Playland – Back In The Box, New Town Velocity, Boys Get Straight, Dynamo, Speak Out Reach Out to name a few – but very little that felt like exciting, rounded, complete songwriting.

It almost felt like a man with lots of talent doodling rather than writing. No conviction, no balls, nothing being put on the line, everything a wee bit too polished and contained.

I realise there’ll be plenty who’ll read this and want to string me up for heresy (the gig was a packed sell-out, with lots of happy punters in evidence) but I’m sorry, Mr Marr didn’t convince me.

I’d have to say that he’s not really a solo artist – he’s a guy who started something he couldn’t finish ... on his own at least.